MIDDLETOWN, Md. (ABC7) — A Frederick County man strangled his wife to death, placed her body in a cardboard box and then discarded her remains in a wooded creek bed, authorities allege in court documents filed late Thursday.
The Frederick County Sheriff's Office charged that husband, Thomas Lehan, 37, of Middletown, with first-degree murder.
Around 6 p.m. Sunday, Thomas Lehan called 911 to report his wife, Katie Lehan, 34, had vanished. Patrol deputies responded to the Lehan home along the 200 block of Broad Street in Middletown to take an initial report.
"Thomas advised he, Katie and their [3-year-old] son were at the residence having a 'normal' morning," detectives wrote in their statement of charges, filed shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday. "Thomas advised Katie was upstairs taking a nap and woke up around [3 p.m.], came downstairs and 'needed air' and walked out the front door."
As Thomas Lehan explained it, around 5 p.m., he realized his wife had not returned home. She was without her purse and her cell phone appeared to be turned off. The 37-year-old husband claimed he got into his car with his toddler-age son and drove along Lambs Knoll Road, an extremely isolated, hilly area frequented by backpackers.
"Thomas did not call or text Katie to inquire about her whereabouts," court documents stated, seemingly in an effort to poke holes in Thomas Lehan's story. "Detectives questioned why Thomas would search for Katie, who was not a hiker, in a remote, mountainous area. Thomas could not provide an answer as to why he would have gone there."
Thomas Lehan proceeded to tell investigators that he continued driving around and was about to call his wife's former employer, Brook Lane Health Services in Frederick. However, he instead phoned his mother-in-law. She instructed her son-in-law to dial 911.
On Monday, search crews canvassed the area of Reno Monument Road, a few miles due northwest of Middletown. They came up empty-handed.
On Tuesday, investigators reinterviewed Thomas Lehan. He kept with his original depiction of events. Meanwhile, a cadaver dog — trained to detect human remains — made signals along Reno Monument Road.
"[It alerted] on a spot where it was apparent something was dragged for a distance and a spot where it appeared something had laid on the ground for a period of time, flattening the leaves," charging documents state. "Search efforts [which included a helicopter] did not locate a body, however."
On Thursday, Katie Lehan's father called the Frederick County Sheriff's Office with a bombshell revelation, his son-in-law had just confessed to murder by strangulation.
Thomas Lehan's transparency continued when he waived his Miranda rights and agreed to speak with detectives. During that conversation, he offered up the "exact location" where his wife's body could be found. It was in a wooded creek bed off Burkittsville Road, between the towns of Burkittsville and Brunswick.
The six-foot-four, 195-pound man reportedly stated he killed his wife inside their home on Sunday. He then placed her body in a cardboard box and drove it to mountainous Lambs Knoll Road. Then early Monday morning, Thomas Lehan returned to Lambs Knoll Road and moved his wife's body to the wooded creek bed, authorities allege.
The Frederick County Sheriff's Office executed a search-and-seizure warrant at the Lehan residence where they uncovered undisclosed evidence. Investigators have also not revealed a motive.
Thomas Lehan is being held without bond at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center. He faces up to one life term in prison.
Prior to Thursday's horrific discovery, Katie Lehan's loved ones distributed hundreds of missing person fliers across Frederick County. They also created a Help Find Katie (Ward) Lehan Facebook page. As of Friday, it had 2,000 members and hundreds, if not thousands, of comments from concerned individuals. Some people offered to launch personal drones to help in the search while others gathered snacks for crews scouring the land.
"Please leave your outdoor porch lights on for Katie, front and backyards- may the lights lead her to a safe place," one woman wrote on the page before news of the murder broke.
The banner photo on Katie Lehan's Facebook page reads, "I've still got a lot of fight left in me." Authorities have not stated if there was a history of domestic violence within the Lehan household.
On Friday, 7 On Your Side spoke with Katie Lehan's paternal aunt, Debbie Butler. She described the situation as "unimaginable."
"We want to thank all of our friends, family and loved ones. The community has wrapped [its] arms around us," Katie Lehan's family said in a written statement released by the Frederick County Sheriff's Office. "We appreciate all of the support. At this time we would like to ask for privacy as we navigate this news."
Anyone with further information about Katie Lehan's murder is asked to contact Detective M. Leveille at 301-600-1046. Tips can also be left anonymously at 301-600-4131.
National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE
National Sexual Assault Hotline - 1-800-656-4673
National Center for Elder Abuse - 1-855-500-3537
National Youth Crisis Hotline - 1-800-448-4663
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
House of Ruth - 202-667-7001, Extension 515
My Sister's Place - 24-hour Hotline 202-529-5991
Maryland Domestic Violence Hotline/Resources - 800-MD-HELPS
Family Crisis Center of Prince George's County - 301-731-1203
Abused Persons Program of Montgomery County - 240-777-4000
Virginia Family Violence & Sexual Assault 24-hour Hotline - 1-800-838-8238; Text 804-793-9999, Monday-Friday, 8am-8pm
LGBTQ Partner Abuse & Sexual Assault Helpline - 1-866-356-6998, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Arlington County - Doorways for Women and Families 24-hour Hotline - 703-237-0881